We Are All Natives. Learn My Tribe.

In Ann Daly's "The Interested Act of Dance Criticism" performer/critic Sal Murgiyato is quoted as saying when "writing about world dance, it is wise to consider the way natives look at their own dances" (4). We can, and should, widen the definition of 'natives' to include a modern idea of tribe, or community. Would it not also be appropriate to consider a contemporary work of art by the norms of the community from which is arises? Claudia La Rocco writes, in her New York Times review of Simone Forti, that the setting "was an open space with... only a smattering of seats." Tying history to this setting, she notes that "the studio was covered with reclining bodies, evoking accounts of Judson-era arrangements." Creating a context in which this work evolved - Judson Church Theater - locates it within a specific community. This contextualization directly relates to Forti's work in that she "invites you to relax into your surroundings."(La Rocco) With the knowledge of the setting, both physical and historical, La Rocco's observation has more meaning and resonance for the reader.

Shifting the critical viewpoint towards a contextualized perspective causes critics to realign their approach to performances because "she is no longer judge, but rather interpreter." (La Rocco) This is true, unless, of course, the critic themselves is an insider of the community from which she is critiquing
. In Edwin Dendy's article, "Dance Criticism", the author assumes performances are in a tradition of which he is apart with his job being to give "a clear picture of the event and to place it in its relation to the art of theater dancing." Dendy does not state there are multiple traditions in which to place the performance, but only one - "theater dancing". La Rocco sums up work by Shelly Senter by writing that the dance "became a quietly shifting human landscape, the careful craft of the work’s interlocking sections often infused with a looser, improvisational physicality." She continues, there are "hints of wit and tenderness glinted throughout, though some choreographic passages felt less necessary than others; it’s easy to grow impatient with such understated material." Even in the context of the review we are left without knowing anything specifically unique - it could be a description of many performances, from many time periods and styles. But, La Rocco is assuming her audience participates in the community that this work came out of - mainly, a New York City post-modern dance crowd. The question must arise, what happens when you are reading this review and are not part of the tribe?

Dance criticism illuminates most clearly when the critic investigates the world out of which the dance evolves. This is hard. This means that not all critics can or should review all dance, because, as Dendy writes, the critic "can hardly be illuminating or right enough unless he has a fund of knowledge about his subject."


Collaboration: In a Process

I am currently collaborating with Stefanie Quinones Bass (dancer/choreographer) and Susan Oetgen (singer/composer) on a new work - The Chemistry of Lime Trees (tentative title). We are in the very beginning stages of the project, so our main focus right now is defining our collaborative process. I have worked with both these artists previously - Stefanie has been in my company for 5+ years, and Susan composed the music (with David Durst) and performed in one of my works (that Stefanie was also in) a couple of years ago. But, for this project, even though I initiated it, the three of us are equal collaborators - so, we need to define our new relationships and how this process will work.

In our first rehearsal Susan suggested beginning by making four lists: Objectives, Roles, Timing & Resources. Some of the Objectives were obvious: "make a collaborative piece w/original music & movement" and "1/2 evening length piece". Similarly, the list of Roles contained many obvious choices - "choreographer, composer, performer, lighting designer, set designer", but also included "time keeper, decision maker and documentarian". By writing out these lists it helped frame and define what we're doing while putting us all on the same page. In this discussion other issues came up, so that we created another list - Open Questions - that included, "How literal will we be?", "How much will be improvised?", and "How much time will each person allot to this project?" Again, putting these questions down on paper helps focus our attention on issues and questions we have as we continue to develop the work.

I'll write more about our second rehearsal - with video conferencing and our Fears/Hopes - soon.